January 13, 2014

A Winter Lift from Fellow Indoor Gardeners

I had the pleasure this past weekend to be the guest speaker for the Hobby Greenhouse and Indoor Gardening Group of Massachusetts, an ungainly name for a very lively group of people who don’t believe that the gardening season ends with the first hard freeze.  It was a surprisingly large crowd who ventured out on a nasty Saturday afternoon for some camaraderie, plant- and tip-swapping. 

Part of our indoor garden
The group was formed in 1981 as the Hobby Greenhouse Association to give home greenhouse owners an opportunity to compare notes.  John Russo, the club president, explained to me that the current name – adopted in 2006 – recognizes that having a greenhouse is just one facet (and a somewhat rarefied one at that) of enjoying the pleasures of living with plants year-round.  Some members have full-fledged stand-alone greenhouses, some have partial glassed-in spaces.  One very spry lady with whom I spoke, lately residing in a retirement village, makes do with a particularly sunny window.

I came across a statistic last year that the average home contains five houseplants.  If that is the case, then the Sanders household is somewhere at the far end of the bell curve.  We don’t quite have a hundred, but we’re within reach of that figure.  Some are long-term residents, having been with us for decades.  Others are transitory.

Three primula that came home
with Betty
Among the latter are a trio of primroses – primula vulgaris – that came home in Betty’s grocery bag late last week.  On one level, primroses are lowest-common-denominator houseplants.  You can purchase them this time of year from every supermarket for a few dollars a pot.  Native to southern Europe and western Asia, in nature their bell-shaped flowers are white, pale yellow and pink.  Today, breeders have turned them into veritable rainbows.

Primroses are also the ultimate easy-care houseplant.  If you don’t over-water them, they’ll happily bloom indoors until summer.  If they start to flag, put them in the basement for a few weeks and watch for a new crop of flower buds.

Orchids are the other winter pleaser that plant breeders have made accessible to everyone. They’ve come a very long way in the past decade. Once orchids were rare, temperamental and outlandishly expensive. Today, tissue culture technology has made them readily available, especially phalaenopsis and dendrobium which adapt well to growing in homes. Ours occupy a tray in our upstairs hallway where a southeast-facing set of windows provide all-day light. We provide the moisture they need by resting the orchid pots on trays filled with a thin layer of pea gravel and water.

Paphiopedlium 'Napa
Valley' in a south-
facing window
Orchids require more care than primula. They need a reasonable amount of air circulation and higher humidity than most homes can provide in winter. They’re prone to spider mites, scale and aphids and so need to be watched (a little alcohol or soapy water is the best medicine). But the payoff is worth the effort: months of spectacular flowers on spikes and, miracle of miracles, re-blooms on plants that have been allowed to rest and gather energy.

I cite these two plants because attending a meeting of a group like the HG&IGGM keeps me excited about being a gardener (or, at least a Principal Undergardener) even in the throes of winter. 

I came home from that meeting and did an inventory of our indoor garden, and felt pretty good about our level of commitment.  Given that it will be nearly four months before anything can grow reliably out of doors, being an indoor gardener is a very good thing.

1 comment:

  1. Neal,
    Have you ever wanted a greenhouse? Sometimes it sounds heavenly, sometimes it sounds like too much work. I guess I have about 20 houseplants. I had to give up my orchids because we just don't get enough sunlight. But my ferns are happy (I'll be doing a Dirt Diaries posting on ferns soon) and I have gotten into the Rex begonias a bit. With it so miserably cold outside, houseplants add can provide a great deal of pleasure and comfort.